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     A NATIONAL TREASURE REDISCOVERED IN NEW JERSEY white logo
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS POH


“New Orleans is stirring, rattling, and sliding faintly and in the enormous richness of its lust; taxis are still parked along Dauphine Street and the breast like, floral air is itchy with the stilettos and embroiderings above black blood drum throes of an eloquent cracked indiscoverable coronet, which exists only in the imagination and somewhere in the past .  .  .”    
                                                        
                                                                                                            - A passage from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee


Whether or not these words were penned by Agee while ensconced in a safe corner at the NATIONAL HOTEL in Frenchtown, New Jersey is a matter of personal conjecture. What is known to be true is that the renowned poet, journalist and author spent the better part of 1938 writing this powerful piece of American prose, about his experiences in the depression era south, while living just a few steps from the hotel. There is certainly enough about the structure that suggests the French Quarter or Antebellum grandeur, and given Agee’s appreciation of late nights and liquor, one might easily assume that the National was the favored well of intemperance and inspiration.


Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee as seen in American Public House Review
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James Agee circa his Frenchtown, NJ years as seen in American Public House Review

JAMES AGEE LIVED AND WROTE ABOUT DEPRESSION ERA AMERICA  JUST A FEW SHORT STEPS AWAY FROM THE NATIONAL HOTEL IN FRENCHTOWN, NEW JERSEY  FOR THE BETTER PART OF 1938.



Sign at the National Hotel in Frenchtown, NJ as seen in American Public House Review
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National Hotel in Frenchtown, NJ as seen in American Public House Review
THE NATIONAL HOTEL IN FRENCHTOWN, NEW JERSEY HAS RE-OPENED WITH NEW MANAGEMENT AND A NEW ATTITUDE, BUT IT RETAINS THE SAME WARM AMBIANCE  AND THE WONDERFUL PATINA THAT ONLY TIME AND EXPERIENCE CAN BESTOW.





The upstairs bar at The National Hotel in Frenchtown, NJ as seen in American Public House Review
WHO AMONG THIS READERSHIP WOULD NOT ENJOY A COCKTAIL AND A CONVERSATION AT THIS GORGEOUS BAR?




My own relationship with the property began in 1990. Disenchantment with the frenetic pace of life in the northern tier of the state, and a bout of emotional restlessness caused me to seek the quiet refuge of this pleasant setting on the banks of the Delaware River. Having spent the early part of my life living in a small New Jersey town, and later on in New York City, I appreciated the convenience of having the staples of life within walking distance. And both bars at the NATIONAL HOTEL were just a matter of a short stretch of the legs. Depending on the season, or perhaps my mood, I could choose the subtle elegance of the upstairs taproom or I could retreat to the rustic confines of the Rathskeller Pub. And if I found myself conflicted by my usual mercurial and indecisive disposition, I could go on a pub crawl without ever leaving the building.


Street scene in Frenchtown, NJ as seen in American Public House Review
FRENCHTOWN HAS AN UNDENIABLE CHARM
WITHOUT BEING CLOYING


What is probably the most striking fact about the NATIONAL HOTEL is that exists within the boundaries of the Garden State. Surviving stage coach stops and restored nineteenth century inns are commonplace throughout New England and the surrounding Mid Atlantic region; but the nature of commerce and development in New Jersey has left only a handful of these significant properties intact. And like so many other storied locations, the NATIONAL was on the brink of being lost to the pages of history and the fond memories of loyal patrons. In March of 2008 it was closed, the victim of the stark economic realities facing the nation.

Since 1850 this venerable institution had been a dependable source of safe haven and hospitality. It had survived fire, floods, the Crash of 29 and the crash of a truck through its front door in 84. Lovers had gathered here to toast new beginnings, lifelong comrades would drink to those that had passed, and generations of young men would raise a parting glass before leaving to face fire at Antietam, the Argonne, Guadalcanal, Incheon, Khe Sanh and countless other battlefields. Needless to say, its closing, as well as its reopening, would have a profound and palpable effect on the community.

On Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009 while the voters of New Jersey were electing a new governor, the citizens of Frenchtown were embracing an old friend. At approximately 2:00 pm Eastern Standard Time the first two official customers were hoisting their celebratory bottles of domestic lager at the Rathskeller Bar. Throughout the rest of the day and into the late hours of the night a steady stream of former regulars and town’s people stopped by to get reacquainted, and to express their heartfelt gratitude to Pete and Marie D’Costa, the couple responsible for the recovery and revitalization of the property. The event felt much more like a church supper than a restaurant opening, and therein lies the beauty and magic of the place.


Kim Phillips and Henry Weaver at The National Hote in Frenchtown, NJ as seen in American Public House Reviewl
KIM PHILLIPS WITH CAP AND HENRY WEAVER ATTEND THE REBIRTH


At some point in between pints I recalled a bit of my own bar stool musings, words that were used to define the quality of tavern life in an editorial published in first issue of this magazine. 

“The worth of a public house is measured by the efforts of its patrons, owners and staff to establish a space that welcomes everyone as equals and treats all who enter with the same regard and respect. It is a community that provides comfort, wise counsel and camaraderie. It is the family front porch of a bygone era, and the parliament of the common man.” –
In Frenchtown .  .  . it is THE NATIONAL HOTEL



Stove in the Rathskellar Pub at The National Hotel in Frenchtown, NJ as seen in American Public House Review
THE HEARTH AND WOODSTOVE DOWNSTAIRS IN THE RATHSKELLER


Uhlerstown, PA-Frenchtown, NJ Bridge as seen in American Public House Review
THE UHLERSTOWN-FRENCHTOWN BRIDGE STRETCHES ITS WARREN STYLE TRUSSES ACROSS THE DELAWARE RIVER TO CARRY THE NATIONAL'S PENNSYLVANIA PATRONS TO THEIR NEW HOME AWAY FROM HOME IN NEW JERSEY.


Pete and Marie D'Costa owners of The National Hotel in Frenchtown, NJ as seen in American Public House Review
PETE AND MARIE D'COSTA - THE NATIONAL'S SAVIORS, NEW OWNERS, AND CONSUMMATE HOSTS.







Old rendering of The National Hotel in Frenchtown, NJ as seen in American Public House Review
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THE NATIONAL HOTEL


31 RACE STREET

FRENCHTOWN, NEW JERSEY 08825

908-996-3200



www.thenationalhotelnj.com

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AMERICAN PUBLIC HOUSE REVIEW text, images, and music © 2007-2009. All rights reserved. 
All content is subject to U.S. and international copyright laws. Email: ed.petersen@americanpublichousereview.com for permission before use.

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